djay in action at Pinnacle Cup Championship 2022

djay: "It wasn't exactly encouraging to pass up on so many events"

Now with ATK, the Canadian has set his sights on qualifying for as many tournaments as possible in 2023.

In May 2020, Jonathan "djay" Dallal played alongside Josh "PwnAlone" Pigue and Ben "ben1337" Smith in their first official game together as a core. Fast forward just over two years later to September 2022, that core, with support from Jonathan "Jonji" Carey and Wesley "viz" Harris, the now EG White lineup claimed victory over BIG Academy in the final of Fragadelphia 17.

Despite winning perhaps the biggest domestic LAN that North America has to offer, performing well individually, and being a part of a steady core, not everything was sunshine and roses behind closed doors. In November, two months removed from their victory, despite being the second-highest performer on the roster with a 1.09 rating, djay found himself heading to the bench. Looking back on the core and the decision that lead to him being cut, djay spoke candidly about the decision and held no resentment toward his long-term teammates.

You played with the EG White and PA core for quite some time. You were with Ben1337 and PwnAlone going back as far as New England Whalers. Tell me about that decision to leave that core after being with them for so long.

Unfortunately, it wasn't my decision to leave the core. I was benched and I will be the first one to admit that I made a couple of mistakes on that team but Josh and Ben, we go way back and I love those guys. I would have loved to keep playing with them, obviously over time you start to notice tendencies or build up resentment toward one another if you can't work through the problems but we were usually pretty good at managing any issues that we had.

You spent a lot of time with Ben so tell me what he's like as an IGL considering the gap we have had in the scene with good IGLs in the NA scene at the moment.

Ben is the type of IGL who puts in a lot of hard work, he's very open-minded and willing to hear out ideas or work with the players that he is presented. He does a lot of demo watching, a lot of prep work. Him and I actually had a pretty good working relationship. You know it's really easy as an IGL, if you lose a couple of rounds, to fall out of your flow and he would be really willing to listen to what I had to say and listen to a call I might make so we worked pretty well back and forth together.

In June 2022, the longstanding core of djay, ben1337 and PwnAlone known as Party Astronauts by this point, were signed by Evil Geniuses as part of the "Blueprint" project. Joining alongside Carpe Diem (now EG Black), this marked a salaried opportunity for djay under a storied organization.

Despite salaried positions being few and far between in NA, there were still issues that the Canadian had to consider. One point that he questioned was how the event calendar would look considering the conflict of interests which were bound to arise with three lineups under one banner. Competing in 18 series during the half a year he spent on EG White, djay had almost matched this during his first month at ATK before the player break.

On the topic of EG, considering how long you guys spent out in the wilderness being orgless, tell me a bit about that process when you were picked up from PA.

This would have been after EPL we qualified for the RMR, we went to the RMR and that was sort of when negotiations, or where EG presented the idea that they were looking to pick us up. Obviously none of us had been with a tier-one org, well I was with CLG for a very short time but I don't really put those two on the same level anymore. Getting signed by EG was a dream come true, but in some aspects, we had a little bit of hesitation. For me the event calendar was one, knowing that we wouldn't be able to play every event or we would have to be sharing events so that was a little bit of consideration. But obviously being a North American player, having incredibly limited options when it comes to org opportunities, it would have been really silly of us to say no and pass up on it.

As you said there with the event calendar, having to share events and figure out which team is going where. Tell me what that was like considering you guys were the ones who had to give up your ECL slot for the other EG team and the process of that.

Pretty much as far as I understand, it was out of our hands. We didn't exactly get to choose which events we would be playing in. I, to be honest, was kind of happy we didn't have to play ECL anymore. I've been playing Premier for an incredibly long time so I didn't exactly feel bad about that. It was out of our hands in terms of who would play what event. I think the idea at that time was that we were the quote on quote "more skilled team" so we did get a couple of qualifiers and the event in Lund, Pinnacle cup. We played the Melbourne qualifier and qualified for that and then obviously Fragadelphia was kind enough to let both teams attend even though there was a conflict of interest. It was kind of out of our control, and to me that was a little upsetting, obviously we don't want to have to share events. To put it into perspective, in the five or six months I was with EG, I have played something like 16 HLTV matches, maybe a little bit more or little bit less, but in the 20 days I have been on ATK, I have kind of matched it already. As great as it was to get a salary and to participate on such a great org, it wasn't exactly encouraging to pass up on so many events, or give up on the chance to play and see where we stand as a team.

Like you said at the start with Ben and Pwn, playing together for so long, when you got the chance to go to Melbourne and play Pinnacle, with the results being so disappointing, what was it like in terms of morale in the team at that time?

Obviously going to European or international events and getting smashed isn't exactly an enjoyable experience. We didn't actually have a lot of international experience at that time, so it wasn't exactly discouraging but it was sort of like a wake-up call, a little reminder that we aren't as good as we think we are. I considered us a top-four team in NA, not that there was a lot of teams, but we did consider ourselves one of the better teams in North America and then you go to Europe play some scrims, play a match or two and you get smashed. Then you're like "Ok well maybe we need to go back to the drawing board on some of these things or some of our fundamentals might be lacking in some of these areas". Even though it was discouraging, there was a lot to take away and a lot to learn. In terms of morale I don't think it hurt us, but it gave us more drive. We were one of those teams that would consistently use HLTV or ESL rankings to see where we were at and we were striving for new goals so seeing an opportunity like that to grow once again was a bit of a kick in the ass to put in more work.

You spent half a year with EG so, besides the fact there are four rosters under one organization, there was a lot of stuff around the blueprint bringing other ideas. What can you tell us about the different ideas that were presented to you at EG?

The different ideas would have mainly been the in-house practice. That was one thing as a North American team, there is a very limited amount of teams that will give you good practice and the sad part is, majority of those are the Brazilian teams like oNe, paiN and MIBR. We're not playing Liquid or Complexity very often, they're very disconnected from the North American landscape. The different ideas were in-housing. We were in Seattle for five or six weeks. We had in-house practice, scrimming against EG Black and spending time with each other in the office every day which allows you to develop different levels of comradery and chemistry that you wouldn't get to have sitting at home at your computer for five or six hours then everyone goes there separate ways and that's the end of the day. When you're done a day of practice at LAN, everyone goes to grab a drink, you go and share a meal together and hang out spending a bit of time together outside the server. You're able to elevate your level of team chemistry and how people form bonds with one another.

You said that you spent a lot of time in-house and the connection between the different teams. With the whole situation that went down earlier in the season with the main team and Stewie2k, was that something that affected you guys with conversations whirling around the office, or was it just completely separate from your team?

I would say that the main roster was the one that was the most disconnected. The bootcamp was mainly for the EG White and Black rosters. They were going through their own roster issues and figuring out what was next for them so, the main question for us was "are we about to lose a player potentially to the main roster" and that was the topic of discussion. Other than that, we were disconnected from them and they were figuring out their own options.

In recent years, the narrative surrounding retirement age has begun to shift. With Finn "karrigan" Andersen winning a Major in his thirties and multiple top pros playing into their late twenties, there seems to be no clear answer. At 29 years of age, djay began thinking introspectively following news that he was to be benched.

The convenient timing of one of the top teams in NA making a change around this time certainly helped. ATK's announcement that they were looking to replace Ian "motm" Hardy presented the perfect opportunity for djay, who went into detail about the process of his move.

Now that you've landed at ATK, tell me a bit about that process because it seemed like a very fast turnover from when you were gone from EG to signing with ATK so tell me a bit about that.

I was informed of the benching decision about a month before it was announced on Twitter since we were working out final details, I was given a two-week notice etc. So during that time, I was looking at the NA landscape to see which sort of teams were available that I could join, and really I was borderline at the point of saying maybe it's time to quote-on-quote "hang up the mouse" and start exploring different options, maybe step into coaching roles or become a content creator. There's a lot of talk about NA teams not having enough guidance, so I thought that might be a role I could fill. Coincidentally during that time I saw ATK decided to replace motm and that was like a one door closes, another door opens situation. I saw an opportunity so I reached out to the coach, sprayxd, we had a quick conversation to get some insight into the roles I might play and where I might fill in. I played maybe four or five scrims and they were like "yeah come on board, we think we can get something done". It might have seemed like it was a very fast transition. One day I announce that I am not longer part of EG, and literally the next day we announce that I am a part of ATK but from my perspective, I did know at least a month prior that I was heading to the bench. It seemed very fast, but there was a bit of work up to it.

You said there that you considered hanging up the mouse and considered coaching. During those conversations with EG in the finalization process, was there ever a case where you said that to them and seeing if there was somewhere you could fit in their coaching department?

Initially, there was a discussion that I might head to EG Black. There was potential there since they were making roster moves, I had spoken with Axed once or twice to see what their thought process was like, maybe where I might fit in. Once I figured out that they were heading in another direction, I spoke with valens and let him know if there were any opportunities for coaching or analyst work. NA is a bleak landscape and I am nearly 30 years old so having a job related to my field of CS wouldn't exactly be a bad thing. You can't be a coach if say you're spectating the entire game and all you are thinking about is how you would play these situations, or you still want to compete and that's where I found myself. I don't know if I could be 100% capable of being a coach because I still want to compete and I still have goals that I want to accomplish in this game. Even though it was a topic of discussion, valens let me know that if there was an opportunity for me he would reach out and let me know, then I took the other opportunity that was in front of me which was to continue playing with ATK.

Going into 2023, djay has set his sights on some very clear goals. Going out 0-5 at ESL Pro League Season 15 with Party Astronauts, the Canadian is more determined than ever to make it back to EPL with his new team. Beyond that, the BLAST Paris Major looms over the horizon. With every Counter-Strike players dream being to qualify for Valve's illustrious world championship, djay is no different. Coming painfully close with Party Astronauts at the PGL Antwerp RMR, he is in good company with ATK who narrowly missed out on IEM Rio. With a clear view of the 2023 event calendar, djay and ATK will be hoping to collectively expand on the progression they made respectively in 2022.

Now that you're at ATK you have ESL Pro League Conference coming up. With the changes announced by ESL and you're now in the situation where you weren't going to be playing Conference now you are, tell me what are your thoughts on the changes?

Really I am excited for the opportunity to earn another spot at Pro League. Obviously, the first and only time we got to play Pro League we didn't exactly do well with a total of one map won out of eleven maybe laughs. I would like a little bit of a chance to redeem myself and I think ATK, I don't want to say this as an NA mentality thing, but it really feels like they are willing to do the hard, gritty, boring work. Even though we might have been doing that as Party Astronauts, it wasn't enough so I would like an opportunity to redeem myself at another international event playing against good teams. The change to the Conference is a little different. We won't be competing versus other teams for that spot but we have to technically win one or two BO3s in order to actually qualify for Pro League now, which I'm not exactly complaining about but we are missing out on a good chunk of LAN experience. Overall I am excited for another chance to compete internationally. For me, being a part of EG it was always a topic of discussion "when are we going to play our next event". For me on ATK, the schedule is right in front of me and I know what is going on. I know where my prep work is, I know what I need to do. I am definitely excited and that would be understating it.

ATK played at the RMR, they came pretty close at 2-3 to going through to the Major. Tell me, with the next Major being in Paris in a few months, is that the goal or have you guys talked about these events that are coming up?

Yeah we have had a couple of discussions. The goal is to qualify for as many events as possible and for me, a dream of mine is to qualify for the Major and get my sticker in the game to cement a little bit of whatever legacy I can. I put all this time into CS and I want to accomplish something with it. It's definitely a goal of ours to qualify for as many events as possible and cement ourselves as not just another NA team that is coasting by on Cash Cups. Our goal is to do something, put in the effort and make a name for ourselves rather than just farming NA and what's left for us to compete in. The options are kind of limited so we are doing everything we can.

Now that we're at the end of 2022, in 2023 with this lineup, what are your goals specifically?

For 2023, first goal is 100% qualify for Pro League and get as much international experience as we can since I think nothing can compare to LAN experience, and also playing in Europe against top opposition, there really is no replacement for that. Considering the Valve standings, we are considered top 6 so maybe we get invited to the closed qualifier for the RMR. That would be great for us to skip the open qualifiers and the BO1 nonsense. Like I said, I want to qualify for a Major and I know these guys want to do it and they put in the effort. They're putting in the work so the aspirations are set pretty high for me.

Now that the goals have been set and the 2023 season is nearly upon us, the path to make it to a Major is now clearer than ever. While having a salary with a top organization is a benefit that NA players yearn for, EG White's inability to qualify for the Valve-sanctioned Major no longer stands in djay's way. With the RMR still a few months away, the winner of Nouns vs MIBR awaits ATK in their opening challenge of the new season at ESL Pro League Season 17 Conference on January 20th.

Also read

#1(With 0 replies)
January 11, 2023 04:23PM
nice article, eg white are in no mans land right now, a team with not much to do
#2(With 0 replies)
January 11, 2023 06:48PM
very good read, atk has always been on the cusp of battling col and eg, hopefully they get there soon
#3(With 0 replies)
January 11, 2023 08:34PM
Eg ruined my favorite team and kicked one of my favorite players for reasons unknown, thank god Djay got on atk while he still could
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